What Does Communication Mean as an Essential Attribute of Prophethood?
The third attribute of Prophethood is communication of Islamic truths or, in other words, ‘enjoining the good and forbidding the evil.’
We say ‘Islamic truths’ because every Prophet came with the same Divine Religion based on submission to God. Communication of this Message was the ultimate reason for sending the Prophets.
God manifested His Compassion and Munificence through the mission of the Prophets, which is itself the embodiment of Divine Compassion and Munificence.
Just as God shows us a manifestation of His Mercifulness through the warmth and light of the sun, He also manifested His Mercy and Compassion for humankind through His Prophets. He chose the Last Prophet, whom He sent as a mercy for all the worlds, as the one to establish the Message of compassion and mercy eternally. If he had not been sent to revive and revise the Messages of the previous Prophets in such a way as to encompass the whole of humankind, we would all be wandering around in the terrifying desert of unbelief, misguidance and ignorance.
Philosophers, sociologists and psychologists have throughout history searched for answers to such vital questions as, ‘Who am I?’, ‘Where have I come from?’, ‘What is my final destination?’, ‘What is the purpose of life?’, ‘What does our dying mean?’, ‘Is death absolute non-existence or only a door to a new, eternal life?’ Man has tangled with such questions during his earthly existence and it is only through the enlightenment of the Prophets that he has found true satisfaction and peace of mind. Through them he has been convinced that this earthly life is just a ‘way-station’ on his perpetual journeying from the world of spirits to the world of eternity, and a field to be planted with seeds for harvesting in the eternal world that follows. This world is reached through the intermediate realm of the grave. With this realization, he has been relieved of his anxieties and the world has been transformed for him into a flowery garden of recreation and a gathering place of friends.
It is to convey this Message and to illuminate the path to happiness here and in the Hereafter that the Prophets were sent.
We will discuss three essential points in the way a Prophet conveys the Divine Message.
THE PROPHETS MADE A COMPREHENSIVE INVITATION TO GOD
There was no fragmentation or compartmentalization in the way of the Prophets. They dealt with people and life in a holistic manner and never ignored or neglected any of man’s faculties. They appealed to man’s intellect, reason, spirit and all his outer and inner senses and feelings.
The position of a Prophet in relation to Divine Revelation is like that of a corpse in the hands of one who washes it. God directs and guides him in whatever fashion is required to lead his people. Without this Divine direction, he would not be able to guide anyone. Neglect of the intellect, for instance, would result in a community of poor, docile mystics. Negligence of the heart or spirit, on the other hand, would result in crude rationalism devoid of any spiritual dimension. Man comprises intellect, spirit and body and each must be assigned its due part of the Message. Also, man is an active being. Therefore, he should be led to activity according to the purpose of his life as determined by God and communicated by the Prophets. God did not leave him to become a passive recluse, nor allow him to be an ‘activist’ without reason and spirit, or a ‘rationalist’ without spiritual reflection and activism. It is only when the intellect, spirit and body are harmonized, and man is motivated towards activity in the illuminated way of the Divine Message, that he can become a complete being and attain true humanity. This was the aim of the Prophets, upon them all be peace, and should be the aim of all those who wish to be their followers. The Qur’an declares:
Say (O Muhammad): ‘This is my way: I call (people) to God with wisdom and insight, I and those who follow me.’ (Yusuf, 12.108)
THE PROPHETS ASKED NO WAGE FROM PEOPLE
A Prophet does not live for himself. Dedicated to his mission wholly, a Prophet is an altruist and lives for the happiness and good of others. His happiness lies in seeing people devoted to God for ultimate salvation but he never expects from people anything in return for what he does; his reward is from none but God alone. This is a very important and indispensable aspect of a Prophet’s communication of the Divine Message, one frequently emphasized in the Qur’an:
O my people! I ask of you no wealth for it, my reward is from none but God. (Hud, 11.29)
THE PROPHETS LEFT THE RESULTS TO GOD
The Prophets were charged with conveying the Divine Message to people. They did their best to this end and patiently faced many misfortunes and even torment. They fulfilled their responsibilities without worrying about the result of their call to God. They knew with all certainty that it is only God who will bring about the desired result.
The three fundamentals briefly outlined above set the principles for everyone who wishes to take up the Divine responsibility to call to God in every subsequent age, in every place.
THE METHOD OF CONVEYING THE MESSAGE
Constant, continual striving is not only an essential feature of the delivering of the Message but it is actually an important element of the Prophetic method.
A Prophet is, so to speak, obsessed with how he is to perform his duty. To this end, he considers all the circumstances and does everything permitted, without concerning himself with God’s domain, never worrying about the results. He knows that it is not in his power to make anyone accept the Message, that his duty is only to convey the Message and to do everything possible and permissible by God so that people become convinced of its truth. On this point, the Qur’an declares:
Assuredly, you [O Muhammad] guide not whom you like but God guides whom He wills. And He knows best those who receive guidance. (al-Qasas, 28.56)
Many Prophets lived with no one accepting their Message. However, they did not lose heart, weaken in resolve, or resort to means not permitted by God, like violence, terror or deception, despite having to suffer every kind of hardship and tortures of the most pitiless sort. When the Last Prophet – Muhammad – upon him be peace and blessings, was severely wounded in the Battle of Uhud, some of his Companions requested him to invoke God’s curse on the enemy, but he prayed for them instead, saying:
O God, forgive my people and guide them to truth, because they do not know.1
He made this supplication with his face bleeding profusely, since he had once said:
I am now as if I was seeing a Prophet who, while his face was bleeding prayed for his people: ‘O God, forgive my people, because they do not know.’
All the Prophets reacted in the same way to the torments and false accusations they suffered from their people. For example:
The leaders of the people of Noah said: ‘Verily, we see you in clear deviation.’ He said: ‘O my people! There is no deviation in me, but I am a Messenger from the Lord of the Worlds! I convey unto you the messages of my Lord and give sincere advice to you. And I know from God what you know not.’ (al-A’raf, 7.60–2)
The leaders of Hud’s people, who were unbelievers, said: ‘We see you surely in foolishness; and we think you are among the liars.’ He said: ‘O my people! There is no foolishness in me, but I am a Messenger from the Lord of the Worlds. I convey unto you the messages of my Lord and I am a trustworthy adviser to you’. (al-A’raf, 7.66–8)
Nothing changed during the history of Prophethood. The Prophets conveyed the messages of their Lord without thinking of any return other than God’s pleasure. There is no people to whom a Messenger was not sent, as explicitly affirmed in the Qur’an:
Whoever goes right, then he goes right only for his own soul’s benefit. And whoever goes astray, then he goes astray only to his own loss. No laden soul can bear another’s load. And We never punish until We have sent a Messenger. (al-Isra’, 17.15)
And verily We have sent among every people a Messenger (saying): ‘Worship God (alone), and shun all false deities’. (al-Nahl, 16.36)
After he received the first Revelation in the cave, Hira, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, returned home in a great excitement. Wrapped up in his vestment, God ordered him:
O you who wrapped up in your vestment, arise and give warning! Magnify your Lord! Cleanse your garments, and keep away from all pollution. Do not show favour, seeking worldly gain! Be patient for the sake of your Lord! (al-Muddaththir, 74.1-7)
Again, he received the following order:
O you folded in garments! Keep vigil the night long, except a little; half of it, or a little less, or a little more, and recite the Qur’an in slow, measured rhythmic tones. We are about to address to you words of great gravity. (al-Muzzammil, 73.1-5)
Every Prophet conveyed God’s Message to his people without becoming wearied or daunted. The harsh reactions of people could not hinder a Prophet from his duty. For example,
[Noah] said: ‘O my Lord! Day and night I have called my people. But my call has only added to their aversion. Each time I call on them to seek Your pardon, they thrust their fingers in their ears and cover themselves with their garments, persisting in sin and magnifying themselves in insolent pride. Further, I have called to them aloud. Further, I have spoken to them in public and in private, saying: “Ask forgiveness from your Lord: for He is Oft-Forgiving.”’ (Nuh, 71.5-10)
When a people rejected the call of a Prophet and persisted in unbelief and corruption on earth, God’s wrath usually fell upon them. We read in the Qur’an the story of several devastated peoples, and we see their ruins all over the world.
1.Qadi Iyad, Shifa’ al-Sharif, 1.105; Bukhari, Anbiya’, 54; Muslim, Jihad, 105.
HOW DID THE PROPHET TRY TO CONVEY HIS MESSAGE TO OTHERS?
The communication of the Divine Message was the most essential characteristic of God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings. We are troubled whenever we are hungry or thirsty, or when we have difficulty in breathing; but he was troubled if a day passed when he could not find someone to whom he could convey the Divine Message. He was so concerned about the guidance of people, and so physically pained by unbelief, that God advised him to be careful of his health, saying:
Well, [O Muhammad] it may be that you will kill yourself, following after them, with grief that they do not believe in this Message. (al-Kahf, 18.6)
There was nobody left in Makka whom God’s Messenger had not invited in public or in private to God’s path. He had called some, like Abu Jahl who was extremely stubborn, at least fifty times. One of those whom he particularly desired should believe was his beloved uncle Abu Talib, who protected him against the cruelties of the Makkan polytheists. In the eleventh year of his Prophethood, when Abu Talib was on his death-bed, God’s Messenger again invited him to belief, but the Makkan chiefs surrounded him so as to prevent his embracing Islam. God’s Messenger was so grieved at Abu Talib’s unbelief that he said:
I will ask forgiveness from God for you as long as I am not forbidden to.2
A verse was revealed some time later, forbidding him to do this:
It is not fitting for the Prophet and those who believe that they should invoke (God) for the forgiveness of the polytheists, even though they be near of kin (to them) after it has become clear to them that they are companions of the Fire. (al-Tawba, 9.113)
Abu Bakr, the closest Companion of the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, knew how much God’s Messenger had desired his uncle’s belief. He took his aged father to God’s Messenger upon his conversion on the day of the conquest of Makka, and doing so, sobbed bitterly. When asked why he was sobbing, he explained:
O God’s Messenger, I desired very much that my father should believe, and now he has believed. But I desired the belief of Abu Talib even more than that because you desired it. However, God did not grant him belief. That is why I am weeping.3
His invitation of Wahshi to Islam
One of the best examples of the Messenger’s concern was his invitation to Wahshi, who had killed his beloved uncle, Hamza, in the Battle of Uhud. After the conquest of Makka, God’s Messenger sent for him to accept Islam, but the latter returned the invitation with a letter, including the following verses:
And those who invoke not with God any other deity, nor kill a soul that God has forbidden, except for just cause, nor commit illegal sexual intercourse – whoever does this shall receive the punishment. The torment will be doubled on him on the Day of Judgement and he will abide therein forever in disgrace. (al-Furqan, 25.68–9)
After the verse Wahshi added:
You invite me to accept Islam, but I have committed all these sins mentioned in the verse. I have lived immersed in unbelief, had illegal sexual intercourse and, in addition, killed your uncle, who was most beloved by you. Will a man like me be forgiven that he should become a Muslim?’
God’s Messenger sent him a written reply containing the following verse:
Surely, God forgives not that partners should be associated with Him, but He forgives save that (anything else) to whom He wills. Whoever associates partners with God, he has indeed invented a tremendous sin. (al-Nisa’, 4.48)
Wahshi returned the letter with the excuse that the forgiveness promised in the verse depended on God’s Will. Upon this, God’s Messenger sent him a third letter in which the following verse was included:
Say: ‘O My slaves who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of God. Surely God forgives all sins. Truly, He is the Oft-Forgiving, the Most Compassionate.’ (al-Zumar, 39.53)
Through this correspondence, God’s Messenger had, in fact, affected Wahshi’s heart and made it propitious for belief so that Wahshi could become a referent of the verse included in the last letter. He had enabled Wahshi to repent sincerely of his previous sins and elevated him to the rank of being a Companion.4 Nevertheless, the martyrdom of Hamza had affected God’s Messenger so deeply that he whispered to Wahshi:
Will you try not to present yourself to me too often; it may happen that I will remember Hamza, and may be unable to show you the proper affection.
Wahshi did try to keep out of sight of God’s Messenger. He used to stand behind a pole and try to catch a glimpse of God’s Messenger in the hope that he might allow him to present himself to him. However, it was not long before God’s Messenger passed away and Wahshi set out to find an opportunity to make up for having killed Hamza. So, when the war of Yamamah broke out against Musaylimah the Liar, he hastened to the front with the spear with which he had killed Hamza. At the most critical point of the fighting, he saw Musaylima trying to flee and, straight away, threw his spear at the impostor. This was the end of Musaylima, and Wahshi prostrated himself before God.5 While tears were flowing from his eyes, he was as if saying : ‘Will you now allow me to show myself to you, O God’s Messenger?’
We cannot but wish that God’s Messenger was present in spirit at Yamama and embraced him to show his pardon and full admission into his noble company.
Another fine example of God’s Messenger’s nobility and altruism, his love for mankind and concern about people's guidance, is his acceptance of Ikrima as a Companion. Ikrima was one of the most bitter enemies of Islam and the Messenger. He had participated in all the plots against Islam and its noble Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings. He fled to the Yemen with his wife on the day Makka was conquered while many of his comrades chose conversion. His wife, Umm Hakam, convinced him to go to God’s Messenger and ask forgiveness. Despite his previous crimes, Ikrima was welcomed by God’s Messenger with the compliment: Welcome, O emigrant rider! After the conquest of Makka, there was no longer any ‘emigration’ in the true sense, but God’s Messenger, upon him be peace, alluded, by this compliment, to his long journey from the Yemen to Madina.
Ikrima was deeply affected by the nobility of God’s Messenger and requested him to ask God’s pardon for his sins. When the Messenger did so, Ikrima felt exhilarated and promised the Messenger that he would spend for the sake of Islam the double of what he had spent in fighting against it.
Ikrima fulfilled his promise at the Battle of Yarmuk. He was wounded there and taken to a tent. On seeing his wife weep beside him, he said to her: ‘Don’t weep, for I will not die before I witness the victory.’
Some time later his uncle, Hisham, entered the tent and announced the good news that God had granted the Muslims victory. Ikrima asked to be helped to stand up, and when they did so, whispered: ‘O God’s Messenger, have I carried out the promise I gave you?’
Then, he recited the verse, Make me die as a Muslim and join me to the righteous (Yusuf, 12.101), and submitted his soul to God.6
God’s Messenger grieved throughout his life for the misfortunes of mankind
God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, grieved throughout his life for the misfortunes of mankind. There was no rest for him, and he called people to God’s way all the time. During his years in Makka, he walked in streets and visited the fairs held every year around Makka, in the hope of gaining a few converts. Insults, derision and torture were not able to make him forsake the communication of his Message. When the verse, Warn your tribe of the nearest kindred (al-Shu‘ara’, 26.214) was revealed, he invited his nearest relatives to his house for a meal. ‘Ali, the son of Abu Talib, later narrated the incident as follows:
God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, invited his relatives to his house. After the meal, he addressed them and said: God has commanded me to warn my nearest relatives. You are my tribe of the nearest kindred. I will not be able to do anything for you in the Hereafter unless you proclaim that ‘there is no deity but God’. At the end of his speech, he asked them who among them would support him in his cause. I was, at that time, a boy with puny legs and arms. When I saw that no one responded to God’s Messenger, I put aside the pitcher in my hand and declared: ‘I will, O Messenger of God!’ The Messenger repeated the call three times and each time no one, except me, answered him.7
God’s Messenger continued to convey his Message without being tired and daunted. He met reactions of the harshest kind: he was derided, degraded and beaten; he was expelled from fairs, and he was stoned in Ta’if. Years passed until he met, in the twelfth year of his mission, at ‘Aqabah, outside Makka, with a group of people from Madina. He communicated his Message to them, and they accepted Islam. The following year, seventy people from Madina became Muslims at the same place. These new Muslims took the oath of allegiance to God’s Messenger and promised to support him if he emigrated to Madina. This was the beginning of a new phase in the life of God’s Messenger. He appointed Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umayr to teach them Islam. When he emigrated to Madina the following year, there was left no house without, at least, one convert.8
2. Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya, 3.153.
3. Ibn Hisham, Sira, 4.48; Ibn Hanbal, 3.160; I. Hajar, al-Isaba, 4.116.
4. Haythami, Majma‘ al-Zawa’id, 7.100–1.
5. Bukhari, Maghazi, 21; Ibn Hisham, Sira, 3.76–7.
6. Hakim, Mustadrak, 3.241–3; I. Hajar, al-Isaba, 2.496.
7. I. Hanbal, 1.159; Haythami, 8.302–3.
8. I. Hisham, Sira, 2.73.
This article has been adapted from Risale- i Nur Collection.